Wheel-In Motor Movie pulls off down-to-the-wire fundraising bid to keep Port Townsend drive-in alive
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Wheel-In Motor Movie owner Rick Wiley shows off the new Barco PP2k-23B digital movie projector he has installed at the Port Townsend drive-in movie theater with the help of a Kickstarter campaign in which fans of the theater contributed more than $35,000. Joe Smillie/Peninsula Daily News

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Like Indian Jones sliding just under a closing temple door, the Wheel-In Motor Movie got just enough last-minute donations to complete its online funding quest to pay for a new digital projection system and save the North Olympic Peninsula’s only drive-in theater.

“We did it,” owner Rick Wiley said Sunday. “Now it’s time for a party. We’re going to come up with a special event to thank all our donors.”

The 57-year-old Wiley, the third generation of his family to run the 61-year-old drive-in, had asked donors to help foot half the $70,000 cost of replacing the theater’s film projection system with a digital system through the online crowdsourcing site Kickstarter.

He received a Barco PP2k-23B projection system on loan from the manufacturer to open the 210 Theatre Road business’ season this weekend with a double-bill of superhero flicks.

He hailed the digital projection system, saying it made for a much clearer picture than the old film projector.

The digital projector was necessary to get movies from Hollywood distributors who have done away with circulating film copies to theaters.

The fund drive had a deadline of 10:15 a.m. Sunday, and was just under the $35,000 goal until the last minute.

Had they not met the goal by that time, none of the donations would have been collected.

The auction ended with $35,752 donated by 460 supporters.

One of those was Theodore Lewis of Sequim who had only recently started seeing movies at the drive-in but wanted to see it stay around.

“I’ve been here about ten times — ever since I could drive,” Lewis said before Saturday night’s screening of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

Donors were given incentives that ranged from a small tub of buttered popcorn and a mention on the Wheel-In website for $25 to a $5,000 package that included souvenir 35mm film strips, a sweatshirt, free advertising and a private screening for 100 people.

“Once again we are touched and humbled and grateful for all of you and proud to be a small part of what makes our community ours,” he said.

“It really is a special place.”

Last year, Wiley converted the Uptown Theatre, which has also been in his family for three generations, to digital projection through a separate crowd-sourcing effort after the Uptown’s digital Kickstarter campaign failed.

The need to upgrade to digital to be able to use movies from distributors led to the March 2 closure of the Lincoln Theater in Port Angeles.

Converting the theater to digital projection would cost too much — about $200,000 — said Bryan Cook, manager of Sun Basin Theatres, the Wenatchee-based company that also runs Deer Park Cinema east of Port Angeles and which still owns the Lincoln.

The Lincoln went on the market May 6 for $259,000.

Wiley noted the digital projection system left more room in the drive-in’s projection booth since he no longer needed all the equipment for feeding film through the 35mm projector.

“I’ve got enough room in here now to put in some seats and maybe bring in friends — or special donors — for special screenings,” he said.

Wiley’s is one of four drive-in theaters still operating in Washington, but he noted the Wheel-In was the only that still had speakers — run by old radio tube amplifiers — operating at car stalls.

The other drive-ins are in Gorst, on Whidbey Island and in Shelton.

Upcoming features will include “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Godzilla” and “Maleficent.”

For show times, schedules and more information, visit ptwheelinmotormovie.com.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: June 08. 2014 7:17PM
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